Student film charts Black experience in Beacon

A student-produced documentary, Lines of Demarcation: Memories from Beacon’s Black Communities of the 20th Century, will be screened three times over the next week. The Current spoke this week with Jaeden Drysdale, a 2023 Beacon High School graduate who worked on the film, as well as Andrea Barrow-Williams of the Rise Up Project and Anna Sullivan of the Foundation for Beacon Schools, two groups that supported it. 

The film includes interviews with Doug Jackson, Anthony Lassiter, David Lucas, George MacKenzie, Murray Milligan, Connie Perdreau and Mary Lou Williamson. 

A Beacon High School student interviews Doug Jackson for the film. At left is Mary Lou Williamson, who was also interviewed. Foundation for Beacon Schools
A Beacon High School student interviews Doug Jackson for the film. At left is Mary Lou Williamson, who was also interviewed. (Foundation for Beacon Schools)

What was the catalyst for the film?
Drysdale: Andrea and all the people behind her were a huge factor, as well as Claudia [Abbott-Barish] at the Mediation Center of Dutchess County and Mr. [Ron] Hammond [the faculty advisor at Beacon High School], who helped get students involved. I was a member of the Black Student Union for my last two years of high school and I’m in a BSU here at the University at Albany. I wanted to help the community by documenting what happened in different spaces, especially in Black spaces that had been dismantled and taken down over the years. 

What did you learn?
Drysdale: A lot of people moved out of Beacon and Fishkill to places like Poughkeepsie and Peekskill because those had not been as readily gentrified. Beacon had been a factory town, but more than ever it’s a tourist town now. A lot of spots by the Hudson River were taken down because they were primarily Black neighborhoods, and they didn’t want to mess with the ecosystem of the white neighborhoods. They didn’t pay a lot of the people who were being kicked out properly and many of them were put into project buildings. They forced a lot of Black people to go to places like Forrestal Heights or Davies South Terrace. 

How much of that did you know before you worked on the film?
Drysdale: Probably 25 percent. I used to live in Westchester County and moved to Beacon six or seven years ago. But by the end of high school, and from the Black Student Union, I worked with a lot of other Black people — Black coordinators, Black business owners and people who are trying to support and uphold the history of Black people in Beacon. Working with the Rise Up Project and hearing peoples’ stories was eye-opening.

Was there anything you wanted to see in the film that didn’t make the cut?
Drysdale: I wanted to promote fundraising for and getting permission to build a fence around the Union Burial Ground, the cemetery near Beacon High School [between North Walnut and North Brett streets, where many early Black residents are buried. Drysdale and another student proposed a beautification project at the cemetery to the City Council in 2022]. I also wish we had more time and equipment and could have talked to more people, but we had to narrow the submissions for time.

What is the Rise Up Project?
Barrow-Williams: It started in 2020 as a church group reading Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. We thought, what’s going on in our world, our neighborhoods? What is being taught to students, and how does it relate to Black communities in Beacon that no longer exist? The school district introduced us to the Foundation for Beacon Schools, which was looking for a film project with history involved. We put a call out for faculty and students who wanted to be part of the project. We wanted it to be student-driven.

I grew up in Queens and moved to Beacon in 1998, so I didn’t know the history at all and discovered it alongside the students. We have members who have been here a long time and they gave us names of neighborhoods and people we needed to contact before they’re no longer here to share their stories. 

What was the role of the Foundation for Beacon Schools?
Sullivan: Superintendent [Matt] Landahl and Assistant Superintendent [Sagrario] Rudecindo-O’Neill connected us and the Rise Up Project in 2022 because we had separately approached the district with local history initiatives. We were interested in vocational experiences that would turn students’ research into short films. 

At the same time, Rise Up was exploring ways for high school students to interview senior residents from the Black community to hear their life experiences and the impact racism has had on their lives. We quickly decided to partner.  The foundation received a grant from the city to support the project, as well as a film by JV Forrestal Elementary students on the history of their school bell. [See bit.ly/JVF-bell.]

In early 2023 we created a weekly after-school club at Beacon High School led by Ron Hammond. We brought in speakers and shared archival material provided by the Beacon Historical Society, the Howland Public Library, The Current and I Am Beacon. Once the students had developed their questions, the Rise Up team coordinated for the interview subjects to come to the school. With guidance from filmmakers Michael Gersh and Eve Morgenstern and media teacher Mr. [James] Corbett, students took turns conducting and filming interviews and organized the script before Michael edited the footage.

Lines of Demarcation will be screened at 2 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 24) at St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church; at 6 p.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 27) at Beacon High School; and at 6 p.m. on Thursday (Feb. 29) at the Howland Public Library, with a Q&A to follow.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

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